Surviving (Your Child's) Adolescence

Welcome to the hard half of parenting

Nagging the adolescent: is it worth the parental effort?

Nagging adolescents is honorable work and needs to be done.

Nagging has been given a bad name. No one likes to nag, to be known as a nagger, and no one likes to be nagged.

Nags have a reputation for being negative, pushy, irritating, and generally offensive people who won't let their demands go. As one young person complained: "No matter how long I take, when it comes to something she wants me to do, my Mom just won't back off! She keeps after me forever until I get it done! I hate it when she nags!"

But parents aren't the only ones who nag. When young children have been denied what they want, they will nag in a way that many parents find most noxious of all. "Stop whining! I can't stand it when you whine!" Then they may give in to get the complaining to stop, giving the whiner more incentive to whine the next time because this act of nagging has worn parental resolution down.

Adolescents may have outgrown whining, but they still nag. Now they use arguing instead. "When I say "no" to my teenager's request, does he accept my refusal with good grace and let it go? He does not! He won't let the matter drop. He keeps arguing his case again and again in the hopes that I will finally give in to get some peace and quiet." For both child and adolescent, nagging works -- at least some of the time.

For parents, nagging is exhausting to do. It is the drudgework of parenting. And with the onset of adolescence it becomes more necessary to do. Now there is more active resistance (argument) and more passive resistance (delay)by the young person who begins pushing for more independence and freedom to live on his own terms.

Parental nagging is the practice of using insistence (relentless repetition of a request) to wear the endless argument and delay of active and passive resistance down.In general, the less emotional the nagging, the more effective it is because when the parent exhibits frustration or anger, the teenager "wins" that round of the skirmish. His determined delay has driven his parent to the point of visible upset.

So if you find yourself getting emotionally aroused when nagging, take a break, cool yourself down, and call on the other parent to take up the chase, or simply reengage when you can be implacable and calm.

If there are two parents in the home, nagging must be shared because it is so unpopular and tiring to do. Otherwise, they will create a distinction between the "mean" parent who won't quit and the "nice" parent who lets things go -- a distinction that can prove divisive of the marriage.

From what I have seen, mothers tend to be more patient and persistent with nagging than fathers who more quickly tire and grudgingly give up or resort to angry threats of dire consequences for nonperformance.

Nagging is pursuit. It shows a parent cares enough to mean business and not take delay as a final answer. Nagging is persistent. Nagging is stubborn. Nagging is dedicated. Nagging won't let the matter drop and permit chores to go undone this week because it's too much trouble to keep reminding the adolescent to get them done.

In the worst case, a parent may make that self-destructive statement: "Oh the heck with getting my teenager to do it, it's easier just to do it myself." Bad mistake! Now there is triple damage done. First, the teenager gets out of a responsibility. Second, the teenager learns that passive resistance works. And third the parent gets resentful at doing what they asked the teenager to do. If it's worth asking the teenager to do, it's worth nagging to get it done.

Nagging is follow-through. Parents who don't follow through send a double message: "Sometimes we mean what we say and sometimes we don't." Given this mixed message of parental inconsistency, most teenagers will vote for "don't." The teenager will bet that parents are too distracted, too tired, too forgetful, too busy, too unresolved to really mean what they say.

By the same token, the teenager knows parents mean business when they follow through with their request by following it up with nagging until it is accomplished.

Nagging is for overcoming the daily resistance of delay in complying with household responsibilities and responding to parental requests. It's for small stuff compared with punishment, which is reserved for major rule violations.

After all, it doesn't really make good sense to punish and restrict your teenager for once again not cleaning up after himself. Now what are you going to do when he sneaks out after hours for a night on the town and you have already grounded him for leaving dirty dishes in the sink?

The term "nagging" might feel better to parents if they called this pursuit by its proper name -- "supervision." It's what they sometimes have to do to get what they want accomplished. Wearisome though it can be, come adolescence nagging is honorable work. It needs to be done.

For more iabout parenting adolescents, see my book, SURVIVING YOUR CHILD'S ADOLESCENCE" (Wiley, 2013.) Information at: www.carlpickhardt.com

Next week's entry: Emotional Extortion -- How adolescents can manipulate parents

Carl Pickhardt, Ph.D., is a psychologist in Austin, Texas. His most recent books are: The Connected Father, The Future of Your Only Child, and Stop Screaming.

more...

Subscribe to Surviving (Your Child's) Adolescence

Current Issue

Just Say It

When and how should we open up to loved ones?